Saturday, December 2, 2023

Pen pushers drive provinces to the brink

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Transport decisions taken in Wellington bear no relation to rural needs, says Alan Emerson.
You’d think that climate change would encourage efficient, convenient public transport but KiwiRail obviously missed that bit, says Alan Emerson.
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I’ve reached peak irritation with the Wellington bureaucracy. It seems many have little to do except sit at their desks and figure ways they can irritate the productive provinces with countless and irrelevant rules and regulations.

That’s compounded by the fact there is a distinct lack of either rural or provincial experience in either the senior management teams or the boards of many organisations.

By their decisions they lack any knowledge of life in the provinces. It appears to us that there are these huge faceless, amorphous, gold-plated bureaucracies that justify their existence by casting their pearls of wisdom to the ignorant swine in the rest of the country.

Let’s start with the ridiculously stupid decision by the Ministry of Education to put nylon carpet in 800 rural schools. It’s been described as a kick in the guts for provincial NZ but I’ll add further comment at a future date.

Then we have the arch-bureaucracy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with its excessive time wasting over the methane inhibitor Bovaer.

Bovaer can reduce methane emissions in dairy cows by 30-45%. It is highly significant. Forty-five countries have approved its use, including Australia.

Now we hear that the EPA has “completed a Māori impact assessment” and is “consulting with WorkSafe”. What can WorkSafe legitimately add?

Internationally, Bovaer has been described as having “low to negligible risk to human, animal and environmental health”, yet the civil servants at EPA are milking it for all it is worth.

As ACT agricultural spokesperson Mark Cameron pointed out, it is totally unacceptable that Bovaer has languished at the EPA for two and a half years. I agree.

The reality is that farmers are under pressure to reduce emissions and Bovaer can assist with that – but the approval process is languishing in a faceless bureaucracy.

Then there’s the NZ Transport Agency – Waka Kotahi . In the provinces roading has become a shambles, much of it caused by inclement weather compounded by bureaucratic stupidity.

In Wairarapa, State Highway 2 between Carterton and Masterton is a mess.

Waka Kotahi “consulted” with the locals and then totally ignored all local input. 

Hinakura is a productive rural hamlet to the East of Martinborough. Floods took the road out, isolating the community. They can currently get out, but it takes a lot more time on substandard roads that are unsuitable for heavy vehicles and are often closed.

Locals tell me it’s a pain in the butt getting stock in and out. Getting services is impossible and kids’ education is suffering.

The road is going to cost $14 million to fix but Waka Kotahi isn’t interested as it claims it doesn’t represent value for money. It wouldn’t know.

Putting that cost in perspective, it is but a drop in the ocean compared with the $62m gold-plated advertising campaign for the misguided Road to Zero promotion.

It’s also petty cash compared with the $614m in cost over-runs on projects over the past four years, as ACT found out with parliamentary questions.

Waka Kotahi”s insistence on an 80km/h limit for the straight road with just one bend between Featherston and Greytown is pure bloodymindedness. A retired road police officer told me that during his tenure there were just two deaths on the road, with both caused by medical misadventure.

That Waka Kotahi is out of control is witnessed by its staff and salaries. Over half the staff earn over $100,000 annually with an additional half of that number earning over $150,000. On top of that it recently awarded an extra bonus, mainly to those who are highly paid. For what? 

So, the Emerson Awards for Waka Kotahi would be an A for arrogance for the organisation, an A for irrelevance for the board and an A for incompetence for former transport minister Michael Wood.

Which brings me to KiwiRail. It recently came to Wairarapa with the news that it is going to close several road crossings, meaning infinitely less access across both Masterton and Carterton.

Its official reason was safety, which is pure rubbish as there haven’t been any crashes on the crossings deemed for closure.

In typical Wellington-centric fashion it didn’t tell the local councils but put letters in boxes informing residents of its misguided proposals.  

KiwiRail comes across as a complete shower. Trains don’t run and are rarely on time.

You’d think that climate change would encourage efficient, convenient public transport but KiwiRail obviously missed that bit.

As with Waka Kotahi, its board has no obvious provincial expertise and, by its record, deserves an A for irrelevance. The organisation itself certainly qualifies for an A for incompetence.  

So, in summary, we’re suffering greatly in the provinces because of an arrogant lack of understanding from the Wellington bureaucracy, a corporate jackboot approach that would do a dictator proud, governance that lacks practical provincial experience, all combined all with a degree of ministerial incompetence.

It needs to change.

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